From Matter to Force: The Diagrams of Auguste Choisy

Peter Macapia 0
1Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, USA, 2labDORA, New York, NY, USA

This paper presents research on Auguste Choisy and explores the difference between his axonometric drawings in L' art de bâtir chez les Romains (1873) and his studies of the Acropolis in l'Histoire de l'architecture (1899). First, the paper demonstrates how the drawings provide insights regarding notation specific to 19th century forms of analysis and how in advanced cases drawing does not lead to the ‘representation' of buildings but rather towards that which contributes to their organic unity: to analyze architecture in its (newly discovered) tectonic, material, social, economic and even anthropological complexity required an analysis of forces, functions, and factors. Choisy's drawings exemplify the emergence of the diagram as a new category of architectural drawing. Secondly, the paper focuses on the difference between Choisy's axonometric and planimetric drawings. The axonometric drawings compressed the sum total of aggregate matter, structure, space, and program into section, elevation, and plan -- a building from the point of view of material, tectonic, and economic organization and thus generating space. The planimetric drawings introduce a different spatial logic. The asymmetry of the Acropolis according to Choisy was planned; the distribution and massing of buildings reflect a balanced but dynamic experience. But this analysis required a notation heterogeneous with conventional topographical drawings, a vector with a dotted line and arrow that compressed movement through space over time as an effect of the "ponderation des masses." This abstraction of force is entirely new in architectural history. Choisy's vector represents the moment when the problem of representation weighs on the problem of technique and crosses a threshold into a new ontological framework, that of architecture as event. Although there are precedents for his axonometric drawings, there are none for his use of the vector. This paper aims to resolve the origin of this new notation.